English football begins four-day social media boycott over abuse

Social media silence by football leagues, clubs and players in England in protest against online racist abuse.

The PFA, which represents players in England and Wales, said it had conducted an investigation which showed that 31 out of 56 discriminatory and abusive messages reported to Twitter in November were still visible [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]
The PFA, which represents players in England and Wales, said it had conducted an investigation which showed that 31 out of 56 discriminatory and abusive messages reported to Twitter in November were still visible [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

Football clubs and players in the United Kingdom have begun a four-day boycott of social media to protest against online racist abuse and to call on social media companies to do more to police their platforms.

There was initially a joint boycott announcement by the English Football Association, Premier League, English Football League, Women’s Super League, Women’s Championship as well as player, manager and referee bodies, anti-discrimination group Kick It Out and the Women In Football group.

Ahead of the boycott beginning at 14:00 GMT on Friday until 22:59 GMT on Monday, other English sports including cricket, rugby, tennis and horse racing said they would fall silent on social media.

FIFA, UEFA and the Premier League’s British broadcasters also said they will not post online across the four days.

Such is the anger across the game, it means that if Manchester City clinches the Premier League trophy on Sunday it will not celebrate the title on social media.

 

“What we are saying is that there are not enough safety parameters, not enough monitoring, not enough enforcement on social media platforms at the moment,” Edleen John, international relations, corporate affairs and co-partner for equality, diversity and inclusion director at the English FA, told Al Jazeera.

“And that is why there is this horrible culture of abuse that is taking place day in, day out without any consequences for many individuals all over the world.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association, which represents players in England and Wales, said it had conducted an investigation which showed that 31 out of 56 discriminatory and abusive messages reported to Twitter in November were still visible.

The PFA also said it had provided Twitter with a list of another 18 tweets that included targeted, extreme, racist abuse directed at players, with 15 of them still live.

“This situation is absolutely unacceptable,” Sky Sports quoted PFA Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Simone Pound as saying.

“While the platforms repeatedly stress that they are doing all they can to combat online abuse, extreme racist abuse remains visible on Twitter five months after we provided them with clear evidence of abusive content.

“For people to believe that social networks are taking this issue seriously, we need to see them addressing the issue and finding solutions.”

A study by the anti-discrimination Fare network with Belgium-based artificial intelligence company Text found that 157 players involved in the Champions League and Europa League final eight tournaments last August received discriminatory abuse on Twitter.

Six months later, 66 percent of discriminatory tweets remained online as did 71 percent of the accounts, Fare said, pointing out that while ethnic minority players receive more racist abuse, there is homophobic abuse sent to players across the game.

In February, English football bodies sent an open letter to Facebook and Twitter, urging blocking and swift takedowns of offensive posts, as well as an improved verification process for users.

Twitter said it remained committed to the fight against racism.

“Racist behaviour, abuse and harassment have absolutely no place on our service,” a Twitter spokesperson told Sky Sports.

“Since the season started, there have been over 30 million tweets from people in the UK about football. In that time we have removed over 7,000 in the UK that were targeting the football conversation with violations of the Twitter rules.

“We have worked to improve our proactive measures … and also provided expedited reporting channels to our football partners to ensure any potentially violative content is reviewed and actioned swiftly.”

For Facebook-owned Instagram, a racist post is not enough to get a user immediately suspended.

Instagram’s moves to eradicate racism have focused on action against abusive direct messages more than public posts.

 

The English FA’s John said that such abuse can have lasting effects on players and their families.

“We cannot sit back and allow this to continue to happen and that’s why, for us as English football’s governing body and a collective of football and sport more widely, we really needed to use our voices and call on others to support us.”

The British government is introducing a law to address online safety that could lead to social media companies being fined for failing to crack down on racism.

“We could see fines of up to 10 percent of annual global turnover,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden wrote in Friday’s editions of The Sun newspaper. “For a company such as Facebook or YouTube, that could be billions.”

Manchester United announced on Friday that six fans have been banned for racially abusing Tottenham forward Son Heung-min on social media.

United also found in a review of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that 3,300 abusive posts were aimed at its players between September 2019 and February 2021. Chelsea also said on Friday that a supporter had been banned for 10 days for anti-Semitic posts.

The PFA is preparing for more blackouts on social media.

“I personally feel this could be the first of a series of boycotts,” Pound said. “We can do this every week if we have to. This is not going away. They have to listen to us.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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